TALLAHASEE, Fla. – Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton likes to tout the strength of the Atlantic Coast Conference, often calling it the best college basketball league ever assembled.
He might soon wish he wasn’t so right about that.
Hamilton’s Seminoles (10-4, 0-2 ACC), fresh off a frantic 106-90 defeat to No. 7 North Carolina on Monday, will face the next round of their midseason gauntlet when they visit No. 12 Miami (12-1, 1-0 ACC) on Saturday afternoon (5 p.m., ESPN2).
It’s part of a brutal six-game stretch to open the ACC schedule that features four road games as well as dates against No. 7 UNC, No. 12 Miami, No. 4 Virginia and No. 16 Louisville.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” Hamilton said.
Which is why Saturday’s game could be a pivotal point in FSU’s season.
After losses to Clemson and North Carolina, the Seminoles sit 0-2 in league play. While a loss to Hurricanes wouldn’t necessarily be crippling – there will still be 15 games remaining once it’s over – FSU wants to bank that first win as soon as possible.
Especially with the schedule that lies ahead.
“The mindset right now is just keep fighting,” freshman guard Dwayne Bacon said. “We have a chance to be really special and, once we get that first win, it’s going to jell for us and be a huge confidence booster for us.”
Standing in the way of that is a Miami team that’s as experienced as it is talented.
The Hurricanes boast two fifth-year seniors, two fourth-year seniors, a redshirt junior and two true juniors.
Among the seniors are leading scorer Sheldon McClendon (15.9 ppg) and dangerous guard Angel Rodriguez (11.9 ppg, 3.9 apg), as well as 7-foot center Tonye Jekiri (8.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg).
Sophomore Ja’Quon Newton and junior Davon Reed average double-figure scoring as well.
“(The Hurricanes are) a very mature team that’s consistent with their effort and execution,” Hamilton said. “And we’re kind of the complete opposite. …
“We are a team that’s developing, a talented, inexperienced team that has tendencies to play really good at times and be inconsistent at times. And that’s across the board, in every area.”
Hamilton said he’s much less concerned with what Miami will bring on Saturday than he is with how his team performs.
FSU hurt its efforts against Clemson and UNC by starting slowly and digging its way out of early defcits.
While the Seminoles rallied both times – they later tied Clemson and took a second-half lead against North Carolina – they ran out of gas as the games wore on.
“We’ve just got to eliminate those early drops that we’re having,” Hamilton said. “Because once you get behind in the ACC and it takes so much effort to dig out of that hole, sometimes you expend your energy and the other team turns it up again. That’s the challenge that we’re facing digging holes for yourself early in the game.”
If they can reverse that trend, the Seminoles are confident that they can put an end to their losing skid, too.
“It’s definitely still early in the season,” Bacon said. “We’re not panicking. We know we’re going to get some wins.”
Cofer out for season
Hamilton confirmed that he expects sophomore forward Phil Cofer to miss the rest of the season after having surgery to remove bone spurs in his foot.
The injury was not basketball related.
“It will be a couple weeks before he can even put weight on it,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton also said that his staff will investigate whether Cofer is eligible for a medical reshirt.
Cofer averaged 3.8 points and two rebounds in around 13 minutes per game. His absence leaves the Seminoles even thinner in the frontcourt, where they’ve been without 7-foot-1 senior Michael Ojo (knee) all season.
Hamilton said that Ojo continues to make progress in his recovery, but he has yet to return to practice.
“Someone has to step up and fill the physicality role that Phil and Ojo gave us,” Hamilton said. “Sometimes you don’t miss those things until you don’t have them.”